Raleigh Moncrief grew up south of San Francisco, the likely point of origin of the slang term “washed.” His debut LP, Watered Lawn, fittingly finds itself caught between the sounds bubbling up from L.A.’s gluggy beat scene and San Francisco’s dizzy and lazy cultural influence—although he now lives in the barren wasteland of unsolved budget crises, Sacramento, CA. Watered Lawn reads as an attempt to marry the acoustic, folky tendencies left over from a childhood spent “climbing trees, damming gutters, drawing things and starting fires” in the hippiest place on Earth with the blips and bleeps of computer-made music, a meandering daze of shifting beats and cascading guitars.
A fuzzy analog hum, Moncrief’s high indie falsetto and the emotional sweep of his sonic palettes stir up nostalgia reminiscent of Animal Collective and Neon Indian. Even the names of his tracks, like “Time Passed By” and “A Day To Die,” are grand, romantic, yearning for something magnificent. Moncrief seems like the kind of skinny mustachioed man who plays with his eyes half-closed, finger-picking the kind of shimmering guitar melodies he employs on tracks like “The Air” and “Waiting For My Brothers Here.” His tangled, rapid meanderings across the strings compose perhaps the most interesting elements of Moncrief’s LP: Not only are skillful guitar licks a rare addition to beat-minded music, they form the bridge between music plucked from the hands of man and sounds produced by a MacBook. In “The Air,” the trill of his guitar melts into chiming synths, a pulsing drum machine and crooning vocals, blending into Moncrief’s electrocoustic soundscape.
Moncrief’s beats are hard to pin down. They shift constantly, speeding up and slowing down in keeping with the wandering, watery aesthetic of his music. “Lament For Morning” builds its whole emotive sound—the rush of oncoming synth, chopped-up vocals—over a steady beat, but in songs like “A Day To Die” and “The Air” the tempo seems subject to change at the slightest breeze. This lends to the overall feeling that Moncrief’s dreamy work is a little unfocused, not entirely in his control and reigned in. As epic and nostalgic as he can seem, Moncrief’s lack of focus contributes to a sense of emotional distance. His feelings are broad and general, not like folk-dubstep producer James Blake‘s tightly controlled, acute and immediate emotional releases. Moncrief’s sound leaks in all directions, not quite beat music but not folk, either.